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High Voltage

Gasser

High Voltage (1929)

High Voltage (1929)

In one of her first talking roles, Carole Lombard steals the show as a sassy convict in High Voltage. Not quite in tune with the comedienne she would be known as, Lombard uses her looks and attitude to create a character desired by two men: her police escort and another criminal.

Lombard’s Billie with Detective Dan Egan (Owen Moore) are two of four passengers on a bus traversing the snowy wilderness. The jolly yet overly confident stage driver Gus (Billy Bevan) gets the vehicle stuck in several feet of snow just ahead of a storm. Seeing no other option, the party trudges through the white terrain to a small church house spotted in the distance.

The travellers discover upon arrival that they are not alone. Another man, Bill (William Boyd) has been hiding out in the building as he avoids a warrant for arrest. To the new arrivals, however, he is merely some hobo. Bill has a stash of food he is reluctant to share with the new tenants, but agrees to ration the food out for them over what is presumed to be at least a 10-day stint.

It does not take long for Billie to become friendly with Bill, much to the chagrin of Egan, who not only wants to ensure he can deliver the escaped prisoner but seems to have romantic ideas of his own. Billie also takes a liking to the other woman in the group, Diane (Diane Ellis). Also in the church is a banker, Milton (Phillips Smalley). Cabin fever often gets the best of the male characters, some of whose brash personalities are an existing obstacle to harmony.

As the days go on and the food and firewood becomes scarce, Billie and Bill decide to make a run for a ranger station while the others sleep, thus allowing both to escape their raps and be together. Diane falls ill, however, and Billie struggles with her sense of loyalty to the young woman. As the couple steps outside to make their escape –which Detective Egan has noticed– they spot a plane circling overhead attempting to find the lost bus party. The criminals return to their companions to help flag down the plane. The aircraft drops a food parcel and a note saying tractors are on their way to free the group from the snow.

The lovers realize their doomed fate, but Detective Egan attempts to throw away Billie’s warrant and Bill’s “wanted” poster. Bill retrieves the papers and returns them to the officer, thus securing the duo’s imprisonment but with the intention of a future reunion.

High Voltage is not a bad movie. The DVD quality on sound and picture was a low, but the story and both Boyd and Lombard’s performances were worth watching. The poor picture makes it difficult at times to discern the difference among the male actors at times, but one only needs to keep Egan and Bill straight to be able to follow the plot. Unlike the male actors, Lombard pops from the screen with her white blonde hair and dark makeup. She’s sexy and sassy and relatively likeable in the low-class role.

One disappointing story element involves both Diane and Gus falling through the ice while the group is outside getting some fresh air and exercise. The individuals are retrieved and act as though they have endured nothing more than a cold swim. As we know today, the circumstances were likely to spell death given the lack of dry clothes or adequate heating.

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The Racketeer

The Racketeer (1929)

Dullsville

     Talking pictures revealed many flaws about the silent movie stars audiences had idolized. Although Carole Lombard masterfully transitioned into talkies, it’s a wonder the remainder of the cast in The Racketeer had careers at all. This was among Lombard’s first sound pictures, as was true for most actors in 1929 when the technique really took hold. Despite what was a poor-quality print aired on TCM (we should be grateful to have access to it at all), I was able to determine that Lombard and her leading man Robert Armstrong were about the only ones on screen with any acting talent.

    We open on a city street where a man attempts to play the violin but can barely hold himself up out of malnutrition and poor health. A big shot saunters up as a cop is questioning the man and insists the guy cannot be arrested if he has $50 in his pocket, and thus provides the downtrodden musician with a bit of charity. Just as this big shot, racketeer Keane (Armstrong), walks away, he sees a blonde in a cab notice the nearly unconscious musician and help him into the hack as though she knows him.

     Keane later sees this blonde Rhoda (Lombard) at a gambling party. She arrives and the whispers begin as we learn that she had left her wealthy husband for a musician she was madly in love with only to end up penniless. She joins Keane’s table and plays many a good hand of poker. In one instance, however, the desperate woman cheats and only Keane notices and defends her against the others’ suspicions.

     Keane comes around to visit Rhoda, who is trying to nurse back to health her long-lost alcoholic lover Tony (Roland Drew), and the two start a relationship that allows Rhoda to have some financial stability and care for the man she loves –at least until he’s well enough to tell her to leave. The conflict arises over whether she should choose her former love or her new comfortable life and we too are not sure who is the best fit.

    Besides the quality of this film being in desperate need of remastering, the acting and dialogue delivery is poor at best. Most characters give awkward and unnatural performances and let Lombard and Armstrong carry the movie. Lombard uses many of her signature facial expressions here although in excess. I cannot recommend this flick for everyday watching but forced myself through it merely because of a devotion to Lombard.

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